Anderson Silva thought he could play with Chris Weidman. He dropped his hands. Taunted him. Invited Weidman to punch him in the face.
For a round, Silva got away with it. And then he took it too far.
While Weidman may not strike like the Spider, he's a professional fighter with training in every MMA discipline. Silva danced and played, hoping to pull Weidman away from his gameplan. The All-American wrestler continued to fight. Eventually, that was the difference.
Moving straight backwards, chin held high, Silva violated every boxing fundamental in the book. He's made a career of it, relying on lightning quick reflexes to make up for technical deficiencies. This time, however, things didn't quite work out.
Watching in slow motion, you can actually see Silva's eyes focused on Weidman's right hand as two quick punches forced him backwards. He never saw the left hand coming. And neither did anyone else—until Weidman put Silva's lights out with a sweeping hook.
And the fight world's jaw dropped.
It seemed possible that Silva could one day lose, that a wrestler would get the better of him. That someone would ground him, pound him, frustrate him and ultimately defeat him.
We expect even the best fighters to lose. Especially 38-year-old fighters like Silva. But to lose like this? Trying to make a mockery of your opponent, clowning him and pretending to be hurt? We've seen it from Silva before and it always felt like he was tempting fate. Finally, fate answered back.
Anderson Silva lost because he deserved to lose. But that shouldn't erase all that came before.
Every fight fan has their favorite Anderson Silva moment. They are legion and they are amazing:
- Dodging Forrest Griffin's punches like he was part of a real life video game. Worse still for Griffin, a former UFC light heavyweight champion, was that he clearly wasn't the big boss at the end of the game. He was just one of a million minions dispatched without breaking a sweat.
- Kicking Vitor Belfort square in the face with a preposterous rear-leg front kick. That the kick was allegedly the product of Steven Seagal's tutelage made it just that much sweeter.
- Pulling victory from the jaws of defeat against Chael Sonnen with a fight-saving triangle choke. Sonnen had dominated four rounds but Silva was in command when it mattered most.
- In their rematch, nailing Sonnen with a flying knee to the chest—a move requiring otherworldly pinpoint accuracy to avoid becoming an illegal blow. Sonnen made the athletic competition personal with brutal trash talk leading up to the bout. Silva answered in the cage, where actions speak louder than words ever could.
- Grabbing Rich Franklin in a Thai plum and rearranging his face. Franklin was a great fighter but Silva's mastery of the middleweight was complete. Not only did "Ace" never again win UFC gold, the loss forever changed fans' perceptions of what kind of fighter he was in his prime.
For me, the ultimate Anderson Silva moment was my first opportunity to see him, live at the All-State Arena in Chicago at UFC 90 in 2008. In some ways, it was a disappointing performance. Silva didn't finish an overmatched Patrick Cote, who retired due to a knee injury in the third round.
Silva danced around the cage, moved his arms spastically and generally seemed to disdain a world that would put Cote in the same cage as if they were somehow equals.
In retrospect, much of Silva's behavior against Cote was eerily reminiscent of the tomfoolery that came back to bite him against Weidman. Once, he even offered Cote a hand up after he had hit the mat. The Canadian was so happy just to survive that he flashed up three fingers as the third round began, signalling that he had just become the first man to ever last 10 whole minutes with Anderson in the UFC Octagon.
UFC president Dana White could only shake his head and mutter about how Silva was "a killer, man" explaining to a reporter from the Chicago Sun Times that he didn't know what was wrong with Silva that night.
"I think I'm living in an alternate universe," White said. "That was Bizarro world....normally, he annihilates people."
But no matter how despondent White was at failing to wow the press in the promotion's debut in the Windy City, there was no doubt that everything Silva did was in living color, with a joie de vivre that captivated fans everywhere.
Most fighters would blanch under White's withering gaze, but Silva never blinked. Even his press conferences were sassy.
All told, Silva won 16 consecutive fights in the UFC. Eleven of them were bouts contesting the middleweight title, a championship he held for 2,454 days. Those are all UFC records.
In the days to come, we will debate Silva's legacy until we are collectively blue in the face. Naysayers will insist his record was built on a collection of tomato cans, that he's a legend due mostly to a want of competitive fighters in his weight class.
That's just not true.
In fact, Silva fought the very best in the world at 185 pounds throughout his career. His UFC opponents had a combined record of 298-76-4 for a winning percentage of .797. His resume is stacked with the greats—former champions like Franklin, Griffin, Dan Henderson and Belfort, as well as a diverse array of perennial contenders like Sonnen. If his opponents seem ordinary in retrospect, it's only because he made them appear so.
Of course, those are just scribbles on a screen, a collection of assorted trivia that eventually replaces flesh and blood as memories fade and all that remains of an athlete are cold, hard numbers. Fight stats, records and percentages can't begin to capture what made Silva such a special athlete.
Most UFC fighters are cut from the same cloth, men who go out to the cage to share pain with an opponent. Their fights are battles of attrition. The winner is the last one to fall down, the one too courageous to quit.
Silva was never that kind of fighter. Among all the cage fighters who proclaimed themselves artists, he was the one who made you believe. He moved with a grace and rhythm that was all his own. It captivated opponents, luring them into his web—mesmerizing them with a sway here, a quick movement of hands there—right up until the moment that right hand finally flashed and, suddenly, the world became a dark and dangerous place.
Anderson did everything you aren't supposed to do. He taunted opponents. Dropped his hands. Allowed them to hit him. At times, he actually seemed to put himself in adverse positions just to see if he could escape them. If the other fighters weren't good enough to test him, he would test himself.
When history is written, Silva will stand among the greats of MMA's formative years. His accomplishments demand it. For many, his loss is the end of an era. Fans weaned on the sport in The Ultimate Fighter reality show boom have never known a UFC that didn't have Anderson Silva as its top fighter. He's dominated so long that it seemed inevitable that he would continue to reign forever.
Alas, every man is mortal. At 38 years of age, Silva, his style so dependent on his otherworldly reflexes and timing, finally faltered. Weidman was able to do what no one else has ever managed.
In combat sports, to be the man, you've got to beat them man. Weidman took the throne the old fashioned way—with sword and spear.
The king is dead. Long live the king.